Last night, who knew what to expect from Lauryn Hills’s, Ravinia concert. Ms. Hill has been extremely late or a no-show for many concert dates over the last few years. Also, unbeknownst to me, until I arrived at Ravinia, the website had been updated to include a “theme,” opening acts and a start time that varied from the ticket. So, L. was not late, there were three acts (plus her DJ) before her! Possibly Ravinia should have sent out an email of the update, but really would they have done that for anyone else? I’ve been to enough concerts in my day, so I doubt it. Also, this MLH Caravan tour was not unique to Chicago, it’s her official summer tour.
Ms. Lauryn Hill – The MLH Caravan: A Diaspora Calling! Concert Series
Soul Rebels/Jesse Royal/Noname
Thursday, September 1, 2016
7:00 PM (Concert Start)
The show started a little before 7:20pm and there were three opening acts, and a dj, to fill what otherwise might have been dead air, if she was on that “late thing.” After the first two openers— Jesse Royal and Noname—I was pleased to see a tuba being carried on stage. I got a thing for tubas, ion’t know why, well actually, they remind me of the end of summer in Chicago and our Bud Billiken Parade—one of the blackity black, blackest things that happen in tha Chi on the mighty southside. In the parade, the tuba players always have “moves,” and often they are stocky boys, but they have lotsa air to blow that horn.
The tuba player was in the brass band, Soul Rebels, from NOLA. They were polished and definitely had that bayou sound. I enjoyed them.
Then Lauryn’s, DJ came out to get us on our feet and hyped to receive Ms. Hill. #Success. I love to see a DJ feeling himself. The brotha started to dance cause what he was spinning was not only inspiring us, it was sho’nuff touching him. A dancing DJ isn’t about being cocky, but about being a music lover first; and, if you can’t groove to yo own tunes, then who else will? I-n-I tinks the selector’s name was DJ Rampage, and I enjoyed his set, including the reggae.
So, it was time for L. Boogie-about 9:10ish. Her band was deep: horns, keys, drummers, strings, DJ, vocalists and a dancer.
It was clear that Lauryn is a student of Fela Kuti, afro-beats, Living Colour and/or Fishbone, and overall African Diasporic music. Aligned with the Diaspora theme of the night, her set opened with a sista afro-dancing through the audience to the stage. She was the sista energy who opened the portal to Lauryn’s set, whereas the DJ was the brotha energy that prepped us. She evoked #blackgirlmagic and welcomed the ancestors into the space. I love to see Black womyn take up space and expand, disrupting oppression, because we’re so often asked to contract.
Lauryn came on in a, two-piece black polka dots on light-blue long flowy skirt ensemble. The flow of the fabric made the two-piece ethereal, and made her “camera ready” when it got caught in the breeze of the fan. (Lauryn is a sweat’er, hence the fan.)
Technician . Perfectionist . Craftswomon . Musician . Artist .
She started off standing, and by the 2nd or 3rd song, she was seated on a loveseat with her guitar. She’s been playing enough years to have formed calluses on her fingers by now. I remember when she’d first started playing, around the release of her MTV UnPlugged performance/cd. Wyclef also plays the guitar. I wonder if it was with Clef, when she first picked up this instrument.
As she played, rapped and sang she was also directing her band and bossin’ the sound crew. She kept asking for more in the monitors and in her ear—wanting to hear each instrument and each background vocalist clearly. She was frantic in her motioning, and frantic in her wanting the sound to be right—and she never missed a beat. She remained timely in entering and exiting songs in the midst of her hands and arm waving, and non-verbal cues that she wanted something corrected.
Most of Miseducation has been rearranged/remixed, which I knew this from when I last saw her at HOB, a couple of years ago. I still think that it’s brilliant that her live performance doesn’t sound like the album. I like it because it brings me more into the live performance, forcing me to listen to the lyrics to identify the song, not listening for the familiar cords to assess if that’s my jam, or not. Clearly fuqing with folks jams has made some of her fans a bit cantankerous. Some concertgoers were angrily digging around in their mental music rolodex for the liner notes, they were trying to pinpoint the lyrics to their favorite songs.
By “Mystery of Iniquity,” she’d really gotten her bearings, but she did not stop directing the band. She has two performance quirks that imply the otherworldliness of what she does as a sista-womon being used as a vessel. Like most artists when it feels right…or good to us, we are teleported to a mystical, magical place called the pocket…the zone.
Her quirks: 1) When she’s playing the guitar and she’s really feeling it, she lifts her leg and leans back with conviction. 2) She’s constantly blessing and/or clearing energy around her head as she’s often touches/grabs the top of her head.
Many songs were sped up, and she was spitting bars with such breath control and with such speed and clarity like she was a hungry and eager teenager mastering her skill. Her rhyming skills are still SO ON POINT!
She did songs from the Fugees, Miseducation, MTV UnPlugged and from Nina Simone revisited. The energy and her comfort level grew as the night air chilled, and she settled in more and more. The songs kept coming and as soon as they were recognizable, the crowd would go bananas.
I don’t think that we thought she’d do Fugees songs, or the Sade covers…or pay homage to Bob Marley, but she did. She did Nina Simone’s, “Feeling Good“—the texture of her voice on the acapella beginning of this song, and her nuanced delivery making it her own, was memorable.
“How many mics,” “Ooh La La La,” “Ex-factor” and “Killing Me Softly,” to name a few, were reimagined so perfectly. L ended the show with “Doo Wop,” and two of her children, and their friend, joined her on stage.
Ms. Hill, thank you for such a succinct and moving show! Well it was for me, and it was also nostalgic…
However, on the Metra ride back to the city, an inebriated millennial white womon offered an unsolicited comment. “This was the worst concert I’ve ever been to in my whole life.” I gave her the blank stare of Kendrick Lamar’s, “$%^&* Don’t Kill My Vibe.” She continued, “Lauryn Hill has lost herself and in 6-months she’s going to come back and beg us to love her again.”
I wasn’t quick enough in pulling out my headphones and drowning her slurred-speech judgments. As I tugged for my ear buds in my bag, I said to myself: What the *bleep* do you know about a Black womon losing herself? And why the *bleep* do you think she gives two *bleeps* about your privileged comment. The comment was said with such privilege of “how dare you not sing the songs how I wanted you to…”
Others on the very crowded train, were also peeved about the songs not being discernible. I later found out that those on the lawn had an even harder time navigating the songs, because the sound beyond the pavilion was far less than stellar. One person on the train, suggested that Wyclef owns the rights to her entire catalog, hence, her not being able use the arrangements that are on the albums.
From these comments, I felt like we were at two different shows, cos the comments didn’t warrant what I’d personally experienced; which, that’s the beauty of art, we’re all entitled to have our own opinion. But, it didn’t feel like a critique of her art, it felt like another critique and getting down on another Black womon. It felt like a Gabby Douglas and Leslie Jones ambush.
In my mind’s eye, I began speaking the names of sistas who’ve been in my mind’s eye as I’ve sent them positivity as they’ve gone through the struggle. And another person complained about having too much “cushion” before Lauryn came on stage. Clearly that person hadn’t got the memo that this was a “Caravan” Tour.
For me…it felt intentional them having the four opening acts. I don’t know if it was done to damage control or what, but Ravinia was intentional with not just having us sit there. And down time was spent on the crews switching out grip/instruments between acts, so it really wasn’t a lot of lag time. Which, since she’s on this MLH Caravan tour, she possibly was the creator of her own buffer, and venues had nothing to do with it. Also, her reputation precedes her, but here’s the thing: people knew the stories of Atlanta and Baltimore, and the like, but they still bought tickets, the show was SOLD OUT! There’s hope!
For me…Lauryn Hill did tha damn thing! Hearing her spit bars and sing, was like woh—it makes me want, so badly, for her to drop a new album. She wasn’t some wounded soul on the stage, she was an artist sharing her craft, committed to each note, intentional with each beat. She was the curator of Black gyrl joy and Black lives mattering. Let it be known, Ms. Lauryn Hill can STILL rap and sing, and it sounded (and felt) damn good!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Afterthoughts…better yet, context for my love of Ms. Lauyrn Hill: As a graduate student at the University of Iowa, I distinctly remember going to a record store in Iowa City, Iowa to buy Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I remember sitting in the ped mall with my walk man and listening to it. I remember two years prior, being in a club in DC, and the whole entire club was singing, “Killing Me Softly.” It was such an amazing “one love” typa moment, and it was a defining moment in me wanting to write something that would make people FEEL. It ain’t like I’d never experienced a DJ muting the song and the crowd singing, but it was the crowd that sang so loud and so passionately that made the selector slowly turn down the volume. The emotional memory of this makes my eyes sweat. Which, there were folks in the club crying as they sang the song.
Fast-forward, I remember listening to and watching her MTV UnPlugged dvd/cd over and over and over and over again when I was writing my first book of poetry and prose. For me, these stories don’t get old. L. Boogie has a special place in my heart and oddly enough I get her “complexity.”
When Wyclef was dropping “Carnival,” he disclosed that he’d had ongoing relations with L, I was pissed-out. Bruh, you were supposed to take that to your grave as it relates to public consumption. And to use that as a marketing tool, boo hiss. But years later when his book came out, I read it (Yes I read it. I also read Tyrese’s, Common’s and many others) and it was apparent that they had a very intense love. However with the age difference and vulnerability level, I gave him side-eye.
Anyhoo, Ms. Lauryn Hill, keep ya head up.